Moore’s third character with Haynes, Gracie Atherton-Yoo exists more in a day-to-day stasis than anything resembling Cathy Whitaker’s hope. Neither a victim of the conservatism of her time like Cathy nor an avatar for contagion anxieties like Carol White, the lynchpin of “May December” is the constructor of her doomed fate. After her criminal affair with the child who would become her husband (Charles Melton) got her imprisoned and made her a public pariah, Gracie settled down with her family in a quaint Georgia house. Not so much because it’s an ideal home but partly because, according to them both, it’s where they get the fewest feces boxes delivered to their doorstep.
Even though we don’t get heated scenes of Gracie confronting angry bystanders, judging by the doorstep surprises they get, it’s clear enough how at war the general public is with her. Instead, “May December” is more about how she’s at war with herself and Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman), the actress studying her for a movie about her life to the point where she mimics Gracie’s every physical move and lisp.
Compared to Carol and Cathy, Gracie has a more reduced role in her film and less of an arc to navigate as she’s already at peace with her painstakingly ordinary existence. What separates her even more is the virulent side that Moore taps into fearlessly. When we first meet Gracie, there’s an immediate passive-aggressive apprehension about Elizabeth interloping into her life for research before unveiling a more guileful side once she makes the already-bewildered Joe feel at fault for initiating their relationship to absolve herself of any responsibility for what happened. Gracie doesn’t raise her voice, yet her words cut through to him like a knife. When she does act as a model housewife, kindly sharing recipes with a lionizing smile, it’s not so much to be the model housewife that Carol and Cathy are, but rather to toy with those around her.
In the familiar fashion of a Todd Haynes film, where a character’s silence can speak crushing volumes or a close-up shot makes them feel trapped, Joe’s emotional remoteness becomes reflected during a pivotal graduation scene towards the end. As the camera captures Joe seeing his kids grace the graduation podium, it gets a shot of him watching alone. He breaks down as it hits him that they’re not only leaving him at the nest but about to live out the normal adulthood he never had. Although Joe won’t be in the nest alone as he’s living out his marriage with Gracie, the camera closing in on him symbolizes how encased he feels.